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Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Can you hear me now? No more product mentions.

It's not often I'll criticize one of my favorite shows, "30 Rock." But a joke that served as a promotion for Verizon Wireless a few weeks ago not only cost an undisclosed (read: exorbitant) amount of money. The lack of subtlety is growing tiresome as random attempts at "product integration" are become more prevalent in primetime.

It's not the fault of "30 Rock's" staff. They're given a direct order from NBC to find the best way to make a cheap plug work within the show - which is no doubt why Tina Fey has spoofed General Electric integration on "30 Rock" while (wink, wink, nudge, nudge) also employing real product placement. It's a necessary evil. I get that. But while Fey's direct turn to the camera asking for cash was meant to be subversive by breaking down the invisible wall, it left a bad taste in my mouth.

Apparently it isn't enough that we have to sit through three Pepsi MAX and four Cadillac commercials before the trailers come on at the movie theater. Now marketing hacks are opening the checkbook so TV shows can "cleverly" integrate product mentions into targeted comedies. As detailed in this Hollywood Reporter article, the "30 Rock" joke in question revolved around a scene where Jack Donaghy tells Liz Lemon, "These Verizon Wireless phones are just so popular. I accidentally grabbed one belonging to an acquaintance." Liz responds, "Well, sure that Verizon Wireless service is just unbeatable. If I saw a phone like that on TV, I would be like, 'Where is my nearest retailer so I can get one?' " She then faces the camera and says, "Can we have our money now?"

It's upfront. It attempts to "stick it to the man" by acknowledging the promo. And maybe it'd be funny if the show hadn't already done the same thing with Snapple products back in Season One, which was a hilarious routine directly lifted from the "Motherboy XXX" episode of "Arrested Development." In the now-canceled Fox show, several characters embarrassingly fawn over Burger King, which paid the network for product placement - kind of amusing, when you consider "AD" probably had worse ratings than professional bowling on a Saturday afternoon. In fact, it's been reported that "AD" wanted to call the episode the "Tendercrisp Chicken Comedy Half-Hour." That it got changed might be an indication that open mockery of the King went TOO far. Anyway, it was a classic bit, but not something that'd hit the same mark a second or third time.

To be fair, "30 Rock" isn't the only show doing this. There's actually a top 10 list of product placement shows as charted by Nielsen, with another NBC comedy, "The Office," among those well-known for cutting major integration deals. But if you think about Staples or Chili's mentions in the first few seasons, those were blended seamlessly within the show, and more or less allowed "Scranton" to feel as authentic as the cities we might drive through every day. Even that gets old to writers though, with "Office" showrunner Greg Daniels quoted as saying his sitcom is no longer doing product integration because he "found it pretty impossible to balance the desires of the ad agencies and their clients with the creative needs of the show." Amen.

So first time, really funny. Second time, still pretty good. Third time, now I'm getting annoyed.

Am I wrong about this? Does anyone else care?

-- Thomas Rozwadowski, trozwado@greenbaypressgazette.com

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5 Comments:

I tend to agree with you on this one. I'm sure it's a huge infringement on their creative vision to have to incorporate advertisements into the show, but Tina Fey should be able to make some of the integrations more seamless. Michael's love of Chili's on "The Office" was hilarious, and fit perfectly with his character. It also made him more relatable, because who doesn't love Chili's?

By Anonymous mary, At November 29, 2007 at 8:27 AM  

Product placement has been going on for way too long, but I agree it can be done in a way that's not so lame.

Actually I think Seinfeld was the first one to use Snapple as a way to mock product placement, but arguably the show made its plugs for Junior Mints and Twix (Twixes? What's the plural of Twix?) as bits instead of overt attempts to get us to guy that stuff. I don't think I buy junior mints because of Seinfeld, but I can't help but think of Seinfeld when I do, either.
--Malavika

By Blogger Press-Gazette blogger, At November 29, 2007 at 1:31 PM  

Clearly I meant "buy" but apparently I can't type.

By Blogger Press-Gazette blogger, At November 29, 2007 at 1:32 PM  

I'm sure Verizon loved the attention either way, but yeah as a joke, it was flat and forced.

By Anonymous nice guy eddie, At November 29, 2007 at 10:44 PM  

Everything is for sale now. It's a sad commentary about life. I wonder if Seinfeld actually paid for those placements. I kind of thought they were natural parts of the show, but maybe I was wrong.

By Anonymous Anonymous, At December 3, 2007 at 6:49 PM  

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